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Niqabs: The Only Face Mask Banned During Covid-19

The irony of the Swiss Niqab ban is that it comes as the vast majority of the world is stressing the importance of face coverings

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Today, International Women’s Day is being observed globally with the aim to celebrate the contribution and achievements of women. The annual observance allows women from across the world regardless of their background to highlight the injustices they face. For instance, the fight for equal pay, the right to education, freedom of choice and protection from domestic violence, femicide, and so on. Yet as the call for gender equality and freedom for women is made around the globe, the Swiss government will be working towards implementing a constitutional change that directly opposes these values by introducing a Burqa ban. 

In a public referendum held on Sunday, Switzerland voted for the ban on facial covering also referred to as the burqa ban by a narrowing margin of 51.2 per cent. This is not the same as introducing a new legislation as was the case in 2009 with the ban on minarets. Instead, this will be ratified as an amendment to the constitution. Ironically, the results of the referendum were announced by the law minister whilst wearing a face mask. The Swiss government did not support the far-right political party’s proposal which called for ban on “full facial coverings.” While the proposal itself did not mention the terms burqa or niqab, local politicians, campaigners and media referred to it as the “burqa ban”. Furthermore, campaign posters publicised around Swiss cities by the Swiss People’s Party showed a woman covered in black face veil with captions stating: “Stop extremism!” and “Stop radical Islam!”

Muslims make up 5% of the Swiss population of 8.6 million. According to estimates by the University of Lucerne, only 30 women wear face veil in Switzerland practically disclosing that no one in Switzerland wears a Burqa – a full body veil including the face. For Muslim women in Switzerland, this is the cause of disappointment and distress because the law will create more division in the Swiss society masked by a non-existent issue. 

One Muslim woman from Switzerland stated that she feels “disappointed as a citizen of [the] country not because of the prohibition, but more because of what it stands for. It is a small group of people who basically decided to spend so much energy and money to run a campaign, which in the end might directly impact 30 women in the whole country… [the law] is simply spreading hate.” 

Iram Khalil, another member of the Muslim Community in Switzerland, stressed that: 

“Many who voted ‘yes’ are not even aware of what this law means for Muslim women; it does not liberate them; it only restricts them even more…it is not fair to write a law on women’s clothing. I grew up in Switzerland and had to justify myself… because of my clothes and the headscarf, but I still experienced Switzerland as open, liberal and accepting, respectful.”

The burqa and the Islamic face veil, also known as the niqab, has been a centre of intense debate across the West, especially Europe, for many years. Following this vote with the majority in favour of the ban, Switzerland joins France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Bulgaria in the list of countries which have imposed partial or full burqa and face veil bans. In recent years, the wave of terrorism in Europe pursued in the name of Islam has created a sense of fear among European countries that Islam is a threat to their values and democratic principles. Despite Muslim communities coming forward and condemning all acts of terrorism, this fear has only seen prominence, resulting in the niqab being associated with terror and danger. Khaula Smart, member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association Switzerland reflected on the role of Muslims in erasing commonly held misconceptions about Islam: 

“[This] is a stark reminder of how much work we have to do, to educate the world on the true teachings of Islam. The niqab and burqa are considered to be symbols of radical Islam and female oppression. A stereotype propagated by the media. Islam is a religion of peace; its teachings lift the status of women and defend her rights in the modern world. However, all Muslim communities and nations must now draw particular attention to understanding these rights and equally demonstrating them. It is the only way to dispel the common myths associated with Islam.”

While claiming that these bans are to ensure the safety of their people, European states have failed to guarantee the protection of Muslim communities, specifically women, from Islamophobia and bigotry. Commenting on what this means for Muslim women, especially ahead of International Women’s Day, Jasia Bokhari states:

“The ‘yes’ vote risks trivialising the racist atmosphere towards Muslim Women. It is to further stigmatise and marginalise Muslim women. [The law] is another example of telling women what they can and cannot wear. Switzerland ranks 26 out of 29 in [the] glass ceiling index and has clear problems of gender equality and discrimination. So, this ban seems ridiculous just ahead of women’s day celebrated on 8th March.” 

These expressions of dissatisfaction and concern among Muslim women in Switzerland are a reminder for society, governments and world leaders to not marginalise and isolate minorities. The world today is celebrating the voices and achievements of women while also pledging to continue the struggle of freedom and gender equality. However, in Switzerland and other European countries with similar laws, this will contrast to the Muslim women who have once again become subjects to religious discrimination because of their choice to practice their religion.  

Elected representatives of the people have a duty to protect, preserve and guarantee basic human rights and choices rather than restricting them. Governments may claim that their policies are not meant to exclude any specific group or community but one glance at history and this claim falls vulnerable. When the Nazis clamped down on the Jewish Community in Germany in the 1930s, it was not rapid and random. It was systematic and gradual. It started with the Jewish Community’s exclusion from social and economic life and then was so subtly incorporated within the society that the majority of Germans became indifferent to the persecution of the Jews. Of course, things are not that extreme and radical in Switzerland, or any other European country for that matter. But if history can teach any lesson, it is that politics based on hostility towards any minority group or their marginalisation in society can easily lead the general population to become indifferent and unknowingly divisive. The narrow majority of the referendum result in Switzerland is the prime example. 

The irony of this debacle of course is that this unjust vilification of the Muslim niqab comes as the vast majority of the world sits through a global pandemic – forcefully advocating the importance of covering one’s face in public. It is indeed remarkable that at a time where society pines for cohesion and understanding, arbitrary scapegoating and the alienating of the ‘other’ seems to be of utmost priority in Switzerland.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Historian of Modern World History, with special interest in history of modern Europe and Britain. I also have a keen interest in politics, systems of rule, international relations and current affairs.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Daniyah Y

    8 March 2021 at 7:48 pm

    Very important issue raised! There seems to be a lot of double standard in today’s society.

  2. Sultana Bhatti

    8 March 2021 at 7:58 pm

    European progress: Let’s celebrate International Women’s Day by ensuring women’s rights are protected by ensuring a certain type of woman is not allowed to exercise her right to wear a piece of fabric !

  3. Alliya Oppliger

    9 March 2021 at 9:00 am

    Well written! Instead of talking to Muslims, it’s easier to talk about them. The sad truth of our society.

  4. Bil-kist H

    9 March 2021 at 11:12 am

    Greetings of peace
    À shame indeed but I think it is aiming at future arrivals and tourists as well. A policy of exclusion. They plan and Allah plans and who is the best of planners?

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Health

Quest of breaking the fourth wave: Germany’s new Covid restrictions

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Kuhlmann /MSC, CC BY 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons. Changes to the photo was made for this article.

With the rising number of Covid cases in Germany, the German government has announced a new set of restrictions. These restrictions will directly influence unvaccinated people. The decision came on Thursday as one of the last announcements made by the outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In the announcement, she called for an “act of national solidarity” to fight the fourth wave of Covid in the country which is being predicted to get worse during winter. German Vice-Chancellor and incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged the nation to get vaccinated to prevent more loss of lives and to control this “very difficult situation”

According to the latest report of the Robert Koch Institute Germany, more than 300 new deaths have been reported taking the national incidence rate to 442.1 cases per 100,000 population. 71% of the total population is vaccinated while 14.7 % have received a booster vaccination. 

The German Federal Minister for Health Jens Spahn raised his concerns over the growing number of Covid cases in the country and warned in a press conference that the situation kept growing “By the end of this winter everyone in Germany will either be vaccinated, recovered or dead.” In his recent press briefing, his last as a Health Minister, Spahn told the press that Germany has enough stock of vaccines to reach its goal of providing 30 million booster doses.

The new covid restrictions will limit the activity of the unvaccinated people in Germany and will put them in lockdown. The unvaccinated people will be barred from entering “cultural and leisure institutions and events (cinemas, theatres, restaurants, etc.) is only possible for those who are vaccinated or recovered (2G), irrespective of the incidence rates.” The new actions will also include changing the duration period of the vaccination status which will be valid for nine months after getting the second dose of vaccine unless a booster shot has been received. 

The number of participants and attendees of the community events has also been limited. Masks have been made mandatory in the classrooms of the schools. New restrictions will also affect the new year celebrations where gatherings and large crowds have been banned,

Germany is the second European country after Austria to take measures specifically against unvaccinated people. Both countries are currently dealing with anti-vaccination protests and resistance from people – as a result of which vaccine rates remain low while Covid cases are rising. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Politics

Australia proposes new anti-troll laws

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Australia proposes new anti-troll laws

New defamation anti-troll laws have been proposed by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison through which social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. could be forced to reveal the identities of anonymous online users in an effort to combat online trolling.

“The online world provides many great opportunities, but it comes with some real risks, and we must address these or it will continue to have a very harmful and corrosive impact on our society and on our community,” Scott Morrison said while announcing the proposed legislation. 

The proposed laws would require social media companies to collect the details of all users and allow courts to force companies to hand over the identities of users to aid the court proceedings. These companies will also be required to create a complaint system that people can use if they feel that they have been the target of defamation. Through this complaint process, the person who posted the defamatory content will be asked to take it down. if they refuse, or if the victim is interested in legal action, the social media company can legally seek permission from the poster for their contact information to be revealed.

As can be expected, a social media company might not always be successful in getting the poster’s consent for their contact information to be revealed. In these cases, the proposed laws would introduce an “end user information disclosure order” that would allow these companies to reveal a user’s identity without the user’s permission. If the social media companies refuse, they will be held responsible and will be made to pay for the troll’s defamatory comments. It must be noted that these laws are specific to Australia and companies will not have to identify such people  from other countries.

This measure might seem a bit extreme, but this is a global problem and despite many educational campaigns such as Black Lives Matter or players taking a knee before a football match and despite multiple calls for social media companies to take ownership of this problem and address it, they have failed to take any meaningful measure and this has now forced the hand of the Australian government to curb this through legislation. It is natural that if wrong practises are continued despite repeated reminders and education, the laws get stricter. Social media companies might not like this, but they are responsible for bringing this on themselves.

“The online world should not be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others are anonymously going around and harming people,” Morrison said during a press conference. “That is not what can happen in the real world, and there is no case for it to be able to be happening in the digital world”.

A draft of the ‘anti-troll’ bill is expected this week. However, it likely won’t reach Parliament until next year. It may also have implications for individuals running pages on social networks, as they could be potentially held responsible for defamatory comments left on their pages.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Foad is a professional Electrical engineer, avid traveller, always up for an adventure and trying to change the world – one word at a time.

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Health

The Omicron Variant begins to sweep over the world pushing leaders to make tough decisions

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U.S. Secretary of Defense, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The story of the Omicron variant began a week ago, when researchers in southern Africa discovered a new version of the coronavirus. Scientists and world leaders have responded to the latest variant, Omicron, more quickly than to any other. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified Omicron a variant of concern two days after South Africa reported it and stated on Monday that it presented a very serious risk to public health. As the current variant swiftly spreads around the world, Britain has already recorded 32 cases of the Omicron variant, which appears to be extremely contagious. Moreover, several countries, including the United States, have imposed travel bans on South Africa, where the quickly circulating new strain was discovered on 24th November, as well as seven other southern African countries.

Extra testing and self-isolation precautions are also in place for passengers from those nations. Concerns about the variant’s rapid spread have resulted in travel bans from numerous southern African countries. Beginning Monday, the Biden administration announced restrictions on non-US citizens travelling from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. The State Department also published do not travel warnings to American citizens. In addition, the European Union announced plans to prohibit travel from South Africa and other southern African countries. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a news conference on Saturday announced new restrictions for tourists. Additional steps proposed by Johnson include wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport, as well as isolating all contacts of anyone who tests positive for the omicron variant for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status. Moreover, anyone coming into the country will be compelled to undergo a PCR test by the end of the second day, and will be expected to self-isolate until they get a negative result. 

On the other hand, WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, has supported the South African and Botswanan governments in bringing the new variant to attention. “The WHO stands with African countries which had the courage to share life-saving public health information, helping to protect the world against the spread of Covid-19,” added Moeti. The omicron variant is the first new concern since the delta variant swept the world earlier in the summer. Thus, In the meanwhile, people should continue to take precautions to reduce their risk of infection and the spread of the virus. This involves wearing a mask and receiving the vaccine when it’s your turn.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Politics

With no end in sight, violent protests continue in Sudan

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Anti-coup protests have been going on in Sudan since last month to oppose the government’s military rule after an agreement to reinstate civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. This peaceful protest soon turned violent when the Sudanese Security Forces began to fire tear gas at the protestors.

The Sudanese Security Forces tried to stop the pro-democracy protests when they reached near the presidential palace in the Sudan capital, Khartoum. Protests have been taking place all over the country including cities like Port Sudan, Kassala, Nyala, and Atbara. Tens of thousands of people have been joining the protests since October. The capital has been surrounded by the heavily armed police force that started firing tear gas as well as stun grenades as soon as people got within a kilometer of the palace while chanting “soldiers belong in the barracks”. The people have also been heard chanting “the people want to overthrow the regime”, among other phrases. There have been a lot of injured protestors due to a variety of reasons like suffocation from tear gas and injuries due to overcrowding. So far many of the people who tried crossing security barriers were arrested, which included 44 people out of which 18 were minors. The protests since the start till now have killed more than 40 people and many of them have died due to gunshot wounds. In fact, a 21-year-old protester died on 25th November in the last march that took place due to brain hemorrhage from getting hit with a baton by police. 

The main reason for this march according to Penn Today is, “just weeks before the military was to shift power into civilian hands as part of a power-sharing agreement, Sudan’s top military leader Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan launched a coup and detained the prime minister and other government officials. The public has responded with large protests filling the streets of the capital Khartoum and elsewhere, and the international community has condemned the move.” Even after the 2019 revolution that ended in success, there have been many people in the military who supported the past regime. This is why over the past few days, several politicians arrested after the coup have now been released as well. A reporter from Aljazeera, Hiba Morgan explained the situation as “people are still angry,” adding “they say the fact that Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok agreed to negotiate and sign a deal with the military is a betrayal.” Basically, the trust of the civilians was broken which has led to these protests that killed so many people. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Health

“Omicron: The sound of concern and chaos reaches the USA”

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After circling the globe for two years, Coronavirus has picked up a new identity. This time it has been speculated to have been first identified in South Africa on the 24th November 2021. Omicron, named after a Greek alphabet, and has the phonic of shorter “o”, and has alarmed the world with “an increased risk of reinfection”. World Health Organization has warned the world to continue following the “measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19”, which included social distancing, hygiene, use of masks in crowded places and getting vaccinated, to avoid getting infected. 

Although the virus was first detected in South Africa just a few days back, it has already put various countries around the world in lockdown including the Netherlands. Several countries, including Germany, the UK and the USA have updated their travel restrictions with their focus mainly on limiting travel from African countries. In his press conference, while announcing the travel ban on eight African countries, US President Joe Biden said that these travel restrictions “gives us time to take more action to move quickly to make sure people understand you have to get vaccinated”. He called the newly identified variant as a cause of “concern” and not of “panic”. Later that day, President Biden also brought the attention of the world to have “global vaccinations” by donating vaccinations to the underdeveloped countries of the world to stop the mutations and spread of the virus. 

About 59% of the US population is fully vaccinated while 11% is partly vaccinated against covid. These statistics put President Biden’s “concerns” over Omicron more in perspective. Dr Anthony Fauci has also emphasised the need of getting booster shots to increase the body’s immunity to fight covid: “We know from experience that even with variants that are not specifically directed at by the vaccine, such as the Delta variant if you get the level of antibody high enough, the protection spills over to those other variants.”

While the US expands its search for Omicron cases at the four major International Airports, seven Omicron cases have been reported in its neighbouring country Canada four of which were detected in Ontario. This new variant can be detected through a standard PCR test in a patient experiencing symptoms including “aches and pains” with “cough, a fever and loss of taste or smell” as the main symptoms to look out for.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Crime

Ahmaud Arbery’s murder verdict: Guilty

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Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed last year simply for the colour of his skin. Three Caucasian men who were responsible for his murder were charged as guilty on Wednesday. 

Arbery was shot and killed in February of 2020 while he was jogging on the outskirts of the coastal city of Brunswick in Georgia. The men responsible for this crime were Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, and William ‘Roddie’ Bryan who were their neighbours. Travis McMichael who was the son of Greg McMichael shot Arbery three times with his pump-action shotgun. The defendants claimed that they acted in self-defense because they assumed he was involved in a spate of burglaries in the neighborhood without any proof. The prosecutors believed that the race of unarmed Arbery was a key factor in this crime. Travis was convicted of nine charges including murder, Greg was charged with eight of these counts, and Bryan was charged with six counts. There is also a chance of them getting life in prison.

Arbery was chased by the McMichael’s in their truck while they were carrying guns. Bryan later joined the chase and recorded a video while doing so. This video was the one that proved the innocence of Arbery. Travis then got out of his truck and an alteration took place in which he shot his gun. According to the post-mortem report, Arbery had two gunshot wounds to his chest and one graze wound on the side of his wrist. After the verdict, the mother of Arbery, Cooper-Jones addressed the crowd and stated “it’s been a long fight, it’s been a hard fight, but God is good.” “To tell you the truth I never saw this day in 2020, I did not think this day would come … Thank you, thank you for those who marched. Thank you to those who prayed,” adding “he (Ahmaud Arbery) will now rest in peace.”

The reason that race hung over this case was because of how it was treated initially. These men thought Arbery was a threat although he did nothing and the fact that the police officers who arrived at the scene comforted the killers instead of tending to the young man lying on the ground associated race with the case. Moreover, it was mostly overlooked in the media until the video that Bryan shot was released to the public which caused outrage. In addition to that, Joe Biden released a written statement in which he said “while the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system doing its job that alone is not enough. Instead, we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin.”

The case was one that could have been swept under the rug if that video was not released. It is great that Arbery got the justice he deserved but what about all the cases that did not get any media coverage? 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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